Research & Education

Cowabunga! Fall Leaves and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Susy Alkaitis - November 8, 2018

Charlottesville, Virginia: Why should leaves on the trees get all the glory? Fallen leaves are good for more than jumpfests – they’re actually ecological powerhouses. As far as the TMNT connection, well, as Master Splinter would say, you must trust us and be patient (and read this blog).


1. In a beautiful example of the circle of life, dead leaves decompose and add nutrients to the soil, such as nitrogen, calcium, and potassium. Trees soak up these nutrients and minerals from the ground; many of which end up (cue the Lion King soundtrack) back in their leaves!

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2. Trees aren’t the only ones loving the nutrient smorgasbord provided by fallen leaves. Animals, many who are prepping for winter by eating up to 20,000 calories a day, will munch on leaves. In Muir Woods National Monument, pregnant black-tailed mule deer eat the gorgeous red-hued maple leaves to get their fill of Vitamin C.


3. Fallen leaves are prime wildlife real estate. All sorts of creatures, from fungi and bacteria to salamanders, frogs, turtles, worms, and snails hunker down in piles of fall leaves to stay warm, hide from predators and nest.

4. Let’s talk about the shredder. No, not this guy:

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What we’re talking about are the aquatic invertebrates called shredders who chomp on leaf litter in waterways. These tiny creatures nibble on leaf litter, turning large leaves into smaller leaf bits. These itty bitty leaf bits are then eaten by other insects that don’t have the shredders’ leaf-shredding prowess. All of these insects then provide a healthy food source for fish. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could have had a totally different plot!


5. You can use make leaf art AND teach kids to “Leave (or Leaf) What You Find.” Turn the quintessential leaf rubbing activity into a lesson on what other benefits leaves provide. Check out our lesson plan here.

Want more information on the role of leaves in the wild? Check out the links below:

Enjoy Your World and “Leaf” No Trace,

Jessie and Matt

Leave No Trace’s Jessie Johnson and Matt Schneider are part of the 2018 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Deuter, Thule, and Klean Kanteen.

Let’s protect and enjoy our natural world together

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